His first game as a Tiger-Cat at McMahon Stadium long passed, Henry Burris feels comfortable wearing enemy colours to a place where he was once the fan favourite.
The 38-year-old was the starting quarterback for the Calgary Stampeders for seven seasons until he was traded to Hamilton on Jan. 2, 2012. He won a Grey Cup and the CFL’s most outstanding player award and passed for over 40,000 yards while wearing the galloping horse on the front of his jersey.
Burris still keeps a permanent home in Calgary. His wife and two sons spend the winter in Calgary so the boys can go to school there.
Burris’s name will likely join the Stampeder legends hung high at McMahon in the future, but for now he’s a Tiger-Cat wanting a win over his former club Friday.
“This will always be a special game, to be able to play out on a field that pretty much made me who I am today,” Burris said.
“This is always one of the games where you say you circle it on your calendar, any time we play the Stamps it will always be circled, but I’m not going to make this game bigger than what it actually is. It’s still a game we have to go out and execute.”
Calgary (8-2) shares the West Division lead with Saskatchewan and is coming off a 22-12 victory over Edmonton. Bo Levi Mitchell, who was Calgary’s third-string quarterback to start this season, will get his second start in a row and third of the season.
The Stamps have won three in a row and are undefeated at home this season at 4-0.
Hamilton (5-5) sits second in the East Division behind Toronto (6-4). The Ticats are winners of four of their last five and outscored their opposition by a combined 48 points in those games.
Burris was named the league’s offensive player of the week after throwing for 375 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-29 win over the B.C. Lions last week.
He needs 217 yards to become the fifth CFL quarterback to reach the 50,000 plateau and join Anthony Calvillo, Damon Allen, Danny McManus and Ron Lancaster in that club.
Burris and the Tiger-Cats seem to be hitting their stride under new head coach Kent Austin.
“Henry’s been great,” said Austin, a former CFL quarterback. “He’s very easy to coach. He cares, which is the biggest part of it right?
“He really wants to be good and wants to do everything he can to help the football team win. He prepares really hard and I’m pretty demanding. He takes hard coaching well. He’s just a great guy and a true pro.”
“There’s always growing pains when you start a new relationship, right? He’s easy to develop a relationship with because he’s a really good person.”
Burris’s first game at McMahon post-trade Oct. 20, 2012, was a wild one.
With snow falling and field conditions deteriorating, Hamilton botched a 30-goal field-goal attempt on the final play of the game to lose 34-32. Burris completed 24 of 33 passing attempts for two touchdowns in that game. He was intercepted twice and sacked six times.
Calgary’s quarterback situation since Burris’s departure has been interesting to say the least. Burris was dealt to make way for Drew Tate, who was anointed the next No. 1.
Injuries have limited Tate to just five regular-season starts and one in a playoff game. Kevin Glenn, acquired from Hamilton in the deal for Burris, has had most of the starts since Burris was dealt.
But the 34-year-old Glenn has dealt with injuries of his own this season. He’s currently nursing a knee injury. Tate, who will dress as a backup Friday, has bided his time with a troublesome forearm injury.
So Mitchell, 23, is getting a lot of work and making the most of it with a 2-0 record in two starts. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown against the Eskimos. Mitchell was intercepted once.
“He demonstrated a lot of poise,” Hufnagel said. “He made plays with his legs and controlled the game and did what we asked him to do.
“I think Bo is progressing. The more reps he’s getting in practice has definitely shown. The game’s not too big for him. He has excellent poise and excellent vision, but he is a young quarterback. Young quarterbacks tend to make some mistakes.”
Mitchell, in his second season in Calgary, is well aware of Burris’s legacy in the city.
“Watched the guy play,” he said. “There’s a reason everybody here loved him. He can put the ball all over the field. There’s really not a throw out there he can’t make. What he does so well, especially right now, is he gets the ball to every receiver on the team. All of his receivers have a lot of yards this year.”
But the Texan refuses to see Friday’s game as a battle between himself, the rising prospect, and Burris, the established star.
“Never. I’ll never play against a quarterback so why would I?” he said. “I know a lot of people always like to hype up quarterback versus quarterback, especially in the NFL, Peyton versus Eli [Manning], but it’s one of those things where you tip your hat to the other guy when he makes a play and keep going out there doing what you have to do.”
“I don’t compare myself to anybody in this league. It’s not my job. That’s for you guys, the media writers to have fun with.”
Calgary’s record with a constant rotation of quarterbacks is a testament to the club’s depth at pivot. Hufnagel said both Glenn and Tate were healthy enough to play Friday, but the coach doesn’t need to test their health right now.
“Thankfully I’m in a pretty unique position where I don’t have to rush their return,” Hufnagel said.
Notes: Hamilton defensive tackle Brian Bulcke also returns to McMahon after spending his first two CFL seasons with Calgary. ... Offensive lineman Dan Federkeil (groin), fullback Rob Cote (shoulder), defensive lineman Junior Turner (leg) are out of Calgary’s lineup this week. Hamilton native Tim St. Pierre will rotate in at fullback for Cote. ... Calgary defensive ends Charleston Hughes and Cordarro Law have combined for 11 of Calgary’s 18 sacks in the last three games.